MAC: Mines and Communities

quot;Shocking revelations" and an "horrific breakdown of governance" in Orissa

Published by MAC on 2004-11-29

"Shocking revelations" and an "horrific breakdown of governance" in Orissa

A former Speaker of the Indian parliament has challenged the government to stop Vedanta's headlong moves towards bauxite mining in Orissa. And a noted Indian commentator delivers a swingeing Open Letter to Orissa's Chief Minister condemning his policies.

Letter by Shri Rabi Ray, Fmr. Speaker, Lok Sabha to Minister, MOEF, GOI

29th November 2004

Dear Shri Raja Jee,

You would recall my telephonic talk with you on the 24th of this month regarding the recent most gross irregularities that have come to the fore with regard to the Buxite mining of Miyamgiri and Karlapat Hills of Kalahandi district of Orissa. All leading newspapers in Orissa have come out with shocking revelations about the shady deal that has taken place between Government of Orissa and multinational companies.

It has come to my notice that MOUs have been signed which allowed for mining of Bauxite on the two mountains in the Kalahandi district of Orissa. This is a shocking development given the environmental, cultural and anthropological importance of these two mountain ranges and I am writing this letter to you in anticipation of application for Forest and Environment clearance of these mining projects by the Government of Orissa.

As per the newspaper reports, an alumina plant with an annual capacity of 1.4 million tonnes per annum is being set up in Lanjigarh, Lanjigarh Block of Kalahandi district. The plant will require over 6 million tonnes of bauxite per year which is sought to be mined from the bauxite deposits that cap the Niyamgiri Hill and the Karlapat Hill. The total requirement of the project over its lifetime is estimated to be over 150 million tonnes of bauxite. The mining will be done through open cast system in which the whole hill top will be removed to get at the bauxite reserve. The massive alumina plant and the township will be located just below the famed Niyamgiri Hill.

Both Niyamgiri and Karlapat Hills are bio-diversity hotspots with very dense forests. Both these hills were "game sanctuaries" previously and Karlapat has already been designated as a protected area under section 18 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. I don't need to argue about the environmental importance of Karlapat, as it is self evident.

Regarding Niyamgiri Hill, in his Revised Working Plan for the Reserve Forests and Proposed Reserve Forests of Kalahandi Forest Division for the period 1997-1998 to 2006-2007, working Plan Officer Shri K. R. Singh recommended for creation of the Niyamgiri Wild Life Sanctuary (9129.19 hectares) (P.142)

"XXX composition of bio-diversity in Niyamgiri R. F. Rout Jhimri Extn. P.R.F., Jalkrida R.F., and adjoining areas also demand creation of Protected Area" (P.134)

Tigers, Panthers, Leopards, spotted Deers etc., are found as the fauna whereas the plant diversity seems to be more remarkable in the Niyamgiri Hills. Rare plants like Krushna Jubaraj (Melasma Thomsonii) have been found in this region. Recently, the Proctological Society of India found during their survey that Niyamgiri was among the four major spots of Orissa where medicinal plants were found in abundance and in rich diversity (The Samaj, 11.02.02). The Forest Survey of India report admits to dense forest contiguity from around Devagiri in Rayagada district to the Niyamgiri Forest and further into the forests of Karlapat and Thuamal Rampur in Kalahandi district. It then turns south connecting the Tikeiu-Lelligumma and Gumma forests, and then on to the Narayanpatna forests in Koraput district. (The Hindu, Aug 8, 2004)

Apart from the tremendous intrinsic conservation and bio-diversity importance of the Niyamgiri, the hill also gives rise to the headwaters of two major rivers of South Orissa, the Nagavely and the Vamsadwara. The consequences of mining for bauxite in their headwaters can well be imagined.

The Niyamgiri hills are also the home of the Dongaria Kondhs, a primitive tribal group of Orissa famed for their horticulture. A large mine in midst of their homes will surely destroy their unique culture and way of life.

It is obvious to me that both Niyamgiri and Karlapat offer us what your ministry categorizes as "incomparable value" in its Draft Environmental Policy and that to allow setting up of mining and industries in these locations are simply not permissible. Mining of bauxite from these hill tops can in no way be seen as vital national interest, as these are primarily export oriented units being set up by MNCs.

There is a strong local resentment about mining the Niyamgiri and Karlapat hills, but it has been reported to me that the district administration has threatened the local NGOs and other concerned citizens with dire results if they raise the environmental consequences of these projects in larger forum, including with the MOEF. It is also reported that a reign of terror has been established by the goons hired by the company to which the lease has been given.

It has also come to my notice that in spite of not having received Forest Clearance and Environmental Clearance, land is being acquired at the site for setting up the Alumina Plant and the township. 24 villages have received notices under the Land Acquisition Act 1894. Two tribal villages have already been bulldozed and demolished and the inhabitants have been shifted to a makeshift colony where they are living in miserable conditions.

I believe that this is in contradiction to your guidelines, where Forest Clearance is mandatory before taking up any development action.

I am told that the Collector, Kalahandi has allowed a mining company to take up development of the road from Lanjihar to Karlapat. It is not clear to me whether the State Government is competent to take up these activities without receiving forest clearance from MOEF, and in view of the moratorium by the Honorable Supreme Court on diversion of "Protected Areas and Forest Land for Non-Forestry purposes till further orders".

It is because of this reason that I am being forced to write to you on this issue. The State Government is committed to developing this project for political reasons, and will ride roughshod over legitimte opposition. This coercion, I am afraid, would extend to the Local Forest Department personnel, who will be not in a position to give you a true picture due to this pressure.

I hope that your ministry would act in an impartial manner as per the rule of the law and remove these apprehensions from the mind of the people of the state.

I must thank you that you responded positively to my telephonic call when I just made a mention of the issues I have just referred to in my letter.

I hope this letter will find you in best spirits and health.

An early reply is solicited.

Sincerely yours,

Rabi Ray

Shri A. Rajah Minister for Environment and Forests, Government of India New Delhi

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